Top Nav

Brand Your Cause

A story is going around about a rat and hamster relaxing by the backyard pool. The rat asks the hamster, “What gives? We’re about the same, yet the family here loves you. They think you’re cute. They’ve given you a nice home and bring you food every day. Meanwhile, I’m out here in the rain struggling to survive. People hate me, think I’m disgusting and try to kill me. What’s the difference?” The hamster responds: “It’s just branding.”

Businesses like Starbucks, Google, Walmart have known the power of brands for many years. More recently branding has spread to celebrities—think Oprah, Trump, Bono, Tiger Woods. And branding can make a giant difference to your nonprofit or cause.

Some think brand is the logo. And it is. But it’s also the name, design, color, font. And it’s your website, printed materials, how you are portrayed in the media, how supporters talk about you to their friends. It’s how someone sees you in a hundred ways, their entire experience of your organization. (see brand as place). It’s everything a customer or supporter feels about you and your products and services. It’s up to you to create and manage the brand so it works in your favor. And it’s worth obsessing over!

Why Does Your Brand Matter?

The lifeblood of your cause is that important supporter. Ideally, they’d pay attention if you simply told them of a need or something wonderful you’ve done. Yet every day literally thousands of messages fight for the attention of that same person you want to reach. How do you get through the clutter? How do you emotionally connect with that potential partner? An established positive brand serves as a shortcut. Like the aroma of baking, your brand can signal to your supporter a good feeling and help them focus on your message.

nonprofit brand MD AndersonMultiple Audiences. You’re brand is important to more than that supporter. In it’s rebranding journey, MD Anderson Cancer Center noted several audiences. “Brand drives about a third of choice decision for three stakeholder groups: For patients’ decision to seek treatment at MD Anderson; For physicians’ decision to refer to MD Anderson, and for potential employees decision to apply to MD Anderson. It is a crucial influencer of employees’ decision to remain at MD Anderson.”

Define Your Brand—What Makes You Unique?

Start with a clear brand identity or position. What your organization’s essence, core, values? Of course, you’ve got to be doing something people want. Something relevant. If you’re not, go home and rethink your life. But assuming you’re doing something valuable, what makes it unique? What’s your niche? If you’re not different, why should anyone care about you? It may take time, but to define your brand, you’ve got to be able to answer these questions.

GratefullDead LogoThe Grateful Dead is well known for its brand identity. In Strategy + Business Glenn Rifkin says the group “managed to hold on to its special perch in the fickle world of entertainment for more than 30 years, becoming a gold standard in an industry that has seen thousands of other rock ‘brands’ come and go.” Some things the Grateful Dead got right: they knew their customers; they filled a need of that customer; they created (and stayed with) a community, building great trust with their followers; they focused on quality, making sure the experience was always great. Jerry Garcia said, “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”

Again, what is that core thing that only your group does? Try to create a new category, something only you do, and focus on that. Keep your brand simple, singular. Don’t try to develop more than one brand.

Consistency. Then keep focused over time. You don’t develop a serious relationship with someone you just met. It takes time to know each other, learn whether they’re trustworthy, fun or authentic. The same is true for your organization. Brands take time—years—to develop. Once you’ve developed your brand identity, let it permeate every object, every event, every message. You may even get tired of it. But you’re not the audience.

Your brand has to be authentic. You have to be truly what you say you are, practice what you preach. Be transparent. And you’ve got to be relevant to your supporters. You’ve got to be doing something they want done.

Find a way to stand out. When it comes to competing for attention, mediocrity is the ultimate defeat. Find a way to be remembered, preferably related to how you operate. Girl Scouts send a couple million kids out to sell cookies. The hammer-wielding volunteer brands habitat, while Greenpeace fights high-drama battles against environment wrecking Goliaths.

Tom Peters offers these Brand Contrasts:

Good Product           vs.           Great “buzz”

Reliable            vs.           Unique

Excellent           vs.           Memorable

Serves a Function           vs.           Tells a Story

Satisfies a Need           vs.           Fulfills a Dream

Damn good Food           vs.           Place to be Seen

Drives Smooth            vs.           Makes a Statement

komen disaster brandBeyond your control. By the way, while you can do a lot to define your brand, you can’t completely control it. The media and social media can also define your brand. Nothing can stop Facebook comments, blog posts and news articles (positive or negative) from driving the conversation. Look what happened to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure brand in February 2012. A simple announcement that they would no longer support cancer screening/prevention programs at Planned Parenthood set off a firestorm of criticism that set the brand back years. (See the Daily Kos story, How to destroy your brand in 48 hours.)

Nevertheless, for many the name Komen, still carries positive emotional power. When you hit a setback, simply get up, learn the lessons and get moving again. Brands are built over years.

The Power of Brand

Use branding principles, your logo and name consistently to make the most cost-effective impression in order to raise the most public awareness and funds possible with its limited funds. With the help of a coordinated effort, your group can become becoming a “household name” in your market.

Finally, you can’t make your brand be something you’re not. You’ll read that it should delight, clarify, be short, simple, reassure, connect. In the end, your group has to do these things in the real world. You’ve got to provide excellent service over time. Be the best.

Brand Related Pages:

Nonprofit Brand as Place

How to Name Nonprofits




Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.